All year long we had waited impatiently for our holiday to Tanzania and as the departure date drew closer Ruth and I had done everything possible to prepare: weekend practice hikes in the Lake District; visits to practically every outdoor shop in London to stock up on gear; even abstaining from alcohol for a month.
Why all the preparation? Well, over the next 17 days we planned to climb Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa's 10th highest and highest peak respectively, with the latter reaching a daunting 5875 metres altitude, higher than either of us had climbed before.
As a gentle ease in to all that hard work we had planned to first spend a few days on safari in northern Tanzania.
The 10 hour flight to Kilimanjaro airport passed very quickly. As it was only half full Ruth and I took a full row each near the back of the plane and we alternated between watching movies and watching the scenery out of my window. The flight path took us over the Alps, the Greek Islands and the Mediterranean before reaching the north of Africa where we had the endless desert views for company
as we crossed Egypt and Sudan. I had been to the Sahara before in Tunisia and Morocco but seeing it from the air was rather special. What a great start to the trip and we weren't even there yet!
We were met at the airport by Gabrieli, from a local tour agency, who would be our safari guide for the next few days. The safari was included as part of our hiking tour so we had no idea what hotels we were staying in or what was included really. Hence we were pleasantly surprised when he took us to the stunning Arumera river lodge close to the town of Arusha.
The lodge was 1km off the road in the middle of a coffee plantation. The staff gave us a very friendly welcome and carried our bags through the grounds to a large hut with terrace, queen sized bed and straw roof. It was an unnerving experience walking through the grounds in the evening as we were in the middle of a mini jungle and there was no shortage of animals noises.
The sounds of Tanzania woke us at 6am, and we both popped out early to see
the sunrise and explore the lodge grounds. What last night had seemed like a scary jungle was far less intimidating by day. Over breakfast we saw our first exotic animals, the incredibly cute dik-diks, many pairs of which roam in the gardens of the lodge. Tarangire
For the next few days we could put hiking out of our mind and concentrate on seeing the animals for which Tanzania (and Africa) is famous. While I had read everything I could lay my hands on about Kilimanjaro I was much less clued in about what to expect on a safari tour.
Tarangire National Park, situated about 100km west of Arusha, was our destination that day. As we passed through Arusha Gabrieli pointed out the venue for the Rwandan genocide trials and the well known Coca-Cola roundabout, a spot which unofficially marked the halfway point between Cairo and Cape Town in colonial times.
The roads around Arusha were full of cars, bicycles, motorbikes, animals and people - and made us both relieved we hadn't tried to hire a car for the trip. Gabrieli made a brief stop in Meserani at a Masai souvenir shop though I don't think we
were quite ready to do any shopping yet.
The sense of anticipation had been rising all morning and didn't abate until we finally reached Tarangire at midday. Though this national park is approximately 4000 square km in size, much of the wildlife seems to congregate around the entrance. We came a across a herd of zebra within moments of entering the park, followed soon after by a herd of elephants. These were amazing to look at especially the babies, who were only a few months old but already quite a size.
The most populous group in the park is the Wildebeest and it wasn't long until we saw a large herd of them by some trees. Wildebeest tend to gather in large groups as it provides safety in numbers from their numerous predators.
We were lucky enough to witness a mini migration as ahead of us hundreds of wildebeest crossed the road. When one wildebeest changed direction the animals behind would follow, creating a spectacular wave like movement across the landscape.
Gabrieli drove us to the lunch spot where we could safely leave the jeeps and look over the park below. Colobus monkeys congregate in this
area and some were even cheeky enough to steal Ruth's food while she was looking at a monkey in the trees. One monkey came up and stole her cake, then while she was chasing him another jumped down and grabbed the whole lunch box. Have to say I was impressed with how they co-ordinated the attack!
Gabrieli spotted 3 lions down by the river so he drove us down to a spot where we could observe them close up. On the other side of the river was a large of group of wildebeest and zebra which the lions were eyeing as they pretended to rest under tree cover. The lions left the shade of the tree and spread out as if to ambush one of their prey. One of the lions headed further down the river, quite a distance from her mates so we followed her. One moment she was walking carefully the next she was off like a shot, chasing 2 wildebeest on the dry river bed. She gave too much warning to them and they had time to scamper. So nothing came of the attack but it was fascinating to watch the lions waiting, watching and planning.
Crossing into Africa during our flight to Tanzania
And it made we think twice before steeping out of our vehicle!
The rest of the afternoon was less dramatic though as we explored quieter areas of the park and came across giraffes, more elephants and gazelles - surely the most graceful of the Tarangire animals.
Our accommodation that night was at Kiruruma lodge, up in the hills above Lake Manyara at 1300m altitude. This was even plusher than the last night's hotel, in a jungle type area about 6km off the main road. We passed through many run-down villages on the way, a world away from the luxury of our accommodations. There is a lot of money being made from safari tours in Tanzania, but little of it is trickling down to the locals. In our hotel there were Masai guides all over the grounds, though I'm not sure what they are protecting us from, perhaps the animals!
We had a delicious meal that evening in the open-air restaurant and after dinner we enjoyed the views of the stars for which Tanzania, with little light pollution, is famous for. Ngorongoro Crater - the eighth wonder of the world
Gabrieli was there bright and early
again for the next day's excursion to Ngorongoro crater, often called the Eight wonder of the world, though I think the Tanzania tourist board may have come up with the expression. It was a long drive from our hotel up to the crater so along the way Gabrieli taught us a few Swahili phrases to pass the time.
He also told us about the Masai people; they lead a nomadic lifestyle and live mostly between northern Tanzania and Kenya. Supposedly they get circumcised at 16 and then try to build up collections of cattle and wives. Cattle are very important to the Masai and they even drink a cow's blood. The shoes they wear are square meaning their tracks are harder to decipher.
We drove up to the crater rim, which took us to about 2000m altitude, and straight into a very thick mist. I was worried we wouldn't see anything today but he assured us this was a morning mist and would be gone once we dropped into the crater. And so it turned out to be after we turned off from the Serengeti road and started our descent the weather cleared.
Ngorongoro Crater is over
19km in diameter and contains a vast amount of wildlife. Most of this congregates near Lake Magadi, which we made our first stop. With its alkaline waters the lake attracts thousands of flamingoes, which are quite a site. The wildlife in the crater was further away than yesterday in Tarangire but having the crater as a backdrop more than made up for it. Down by the lake wildlife was plentiful but once you moved away you often didn't see another jeep or animal for a while.
Once again we came across a pride of lions. Seeing them up close you can really appreciate the rippling muscles and bulging torsos and what strong and powerful creatures they are. And once again I was glad we were in our jeep.
We saw our first hippos of the trip down by the so called hippo pool. They may appear lumbering, slow beasts but apparently they kill more humans than any other of the big predators. Gabrieli again drove us to the quieter parts of the park, as we searched for the rare white rhinos, the hardest animal to spot.
As we left Ngorongoro crater that night I could understand why
its such a renowned spot. All the animals you could want to see in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. The weather had improved as the day went, so our last views of the crater showed it drenched in sun and full of colour. Lake Manyara
We concluded our safari in the smallest of the 3 parks, Lake Manyara national park. This park borders the scenic lake of the same name, but there is less wildlife on show than in the other parks. This is partly owing to its size and partly owing to the dense foilage which makes it difficult to spot animals. But what distinguishes Lake Manyara is the large variety of birds. Near the entrance we saw a group of Maribou storks, large birds whose wingspan rivals that of condors. Inside we came upon kingfishers and pelicans and many more which I'd never seen before. Like at the Ngorongoro Crater, the colours in the park were stunning especially around the lake.
Manyara marked the end of our safari and that afternoon we began the drive back towards Moshi to our hotel in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. As we approached Arusha, Mt.
Meru appeared on the skyline. It was such a huge, imposing figure that it was difficult to imagine we could even think of climbing it. As the only mountain in the area it appears a daunting prospect from afar. After Arusha, we drove on to Machame, in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. The clouds covered most of Kili but it's lower slopes were visible as we approached our hotel - Meru may have looked big but Kili was something else altogether.
Going on safari was very much a last minute add on to our planned climbing but I have to say it was an interesting few days and we saw some spectacular sights.
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